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How much will homelessness rise? Grim study shows possible 'impact of doing nothing,' researchers say

Scott Greenstone, The Seattle Times on

Published in Home and Consumer News

A recession following the coronavirus pandemic could cause twice as much homelessness nationwide as the Great Recession did more than a decade ago, says a grim new study by Economic Roundtable, a Los Angeles research group.

Using detailed data on unemployment and homelessness from L.A. County social services, authors of the study project that people at the "thin edge of the labor market" — restaurant employees, temporary workers, seasonal labor — are in particular danger of drifting into homelessness in the coming years as the economy recovers.

Daniel Flaming, the president of Economic Roundtable, said though the report uses L.A. data, the pandemic recession will likely have long-term effects in Seattle and other major cities.

"I would think it would be very harsh, because the tech sector in Seattle supports another sector of people who provide face-to-face services — your restaurants, your bars, your nail salons, your gyms," Flaming said. "Those sectors have been devastated."

By 2023, the number of people who've lost work and become homeless as a ripple effect of a pandemic-induced recession could tip over 600,000 beyond current numbers, doubling the last nationwide count, which was roughly 568,000 in January 2019.

Most who lose their low-wage jobs don't become homeless, but those workers are the "seed bed of homelessness," Flaming said. People in that situation who can't stay with family, have mental health or substance use issues, come from poor communities or face systemic racism — especially Black or Indigenous people — will have a harder time getting back on their feet.

 

But other researchers who reviewed the study cautioned that it provides a clear blueprint of what could happen if elected leaders don't act.

"This report certainly is a warning alarm for the potential impact of doing nothing," said Dennis Culhane, a renowned homelessness researcher at the University of Pennsylvania.

Culhane pointed out that Congress never provided direct relief to everyone in the United States in 2009 or 2010 — the middle of the Great Recession — except for extended unemployment benefits.

"Poverty went down when the CARES Act came out," Culhane said. "Who would have expected that?"

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